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Investing in Transit is Not a One-Way Street

Prioritizing transit translates to economic returns, market competitiveness and higher quality of life

A 2014 Forbes article cited a study published in World Leisure Journal that concluded that people with the longest commutes have the lowest overall satisfaction with life. That’s why affordable, accessible, and connected public transit should not be viewed simply as infrastructure. Transit should not be underestimated for the essential part it plays in a community’s quality of life, social connectivity and long-term economic gain.

Diversified options for mobility are necessary for moving commuters, students, tourists, shoppers and fans in and around a bustling, growing region. It’s why we see public transit an integral part of almost every other major city across the nation and globe. Think London, Toronto, Seattle, Chicago, Paris, New York, Denver, Philadelphia, Portland and—our neighbor—San Francisco. Chances are you’ve taken public transit in one of these cities because of the ease, accessibility and convenience in getting you where you needed to go.

Here in the Sacramento region, we are at a tipping point in terms of optimizing the many benefits associated with a 21st century public transit system. Benefits like reducing commute times, road congestion, parking headaches, fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. There’s also some less obvious, but similarly important benefits like increasing business growth and relocation, access to essential services, satisfaction with quality of life, and attraction of the next generation workforce—an essential demographic to our future economy and one with the strongest propensity for utilizing urban transit options.

Addressing our region’s mobility needs is more important now than ever as our city centers and resident population continues to grow. That means creating interconnected modes that include bus, rail, streetcar and safe and connected bike and pedestrian routes. A robust transit system with various options like these provides the means to reduce social disparities within our region and ensure regional vitality and competitiveness.

Valley Vision is pleased to work with a handful of organizations and champions across the region that are working to modernize, improve and integrate our transportation system. Commercial property owners in the City of Sacramento, for instance, just voted in favor of a special tax that will pave the way for streetcar construction, connecting West Sacramento to Downtown and Midtown Sacramento.

A regional bike-share program just launched in Sacramento as well, an effort led by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. And an electric car-share program is being piloted at a low-income housing development put in place by the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

At the same time, Sacramento Regional Transit (SacRT) is in pursuit of a new vision for a transit-empowered future and committed to improving its service by making public transit more convenient and accessible for all residents. The fact is that SacRT’s route plan hasn’t changed in 30 years despite major changes in land uses, travel patterns, and economic centers. SacRT is taking a full-scale assessment to optimize bus and rail routes to ensure that routes and service programs reflect 21st century commuting patterns and better connect transit to high-density economic centers.

UC Davis, as a major regional economic hub, has undertaken a transportation planning process called Transportation Tomorrow, to complement the goals outlined in their new Long Range Development Plan. Transportation goals include reducing single occupancy drivers to campus and supporting programs, policy and infrastructure that enable the campus community to choose healthy and active mobility options.

Each of these efforts is leading the region toward improved, integrated and much needed mobility options that will enable people to go more places more often. To achieve that vision however, public transit requires increased investments—investments commensurate with our community’s needs. SacRT’s local funding level is currently five times lower on average than other transit systems in similar sized cities (Portland = ¾ cent; San Diego = ½ cent; Sacramento =1/6 cent).

It’s an important point that investing in transit is not a one-way street. There is significant economic benefit the region can realize by investing more in our transit infrastructure. Every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation yields $30 million in increased local business sales; and every $1 invested generates approximately $4 in economic returns for our region.

Engagement

In order to choose healthy mobility options, regional residents must be educated about existing choices and trade-offs of different transportation options. We must also invite input to help create a system that will meet the needs of our communities. An inadequate transit system creates significant barriers to wellbeing. The fact is that not all residents have a choice – public transit is the only option for those who can’t afford alternatives, and policy makers need to recognize the needs of this population.

SacRT gets it. Over April and May this year, SacRT collected feedback from more than 2,000 residents to better understand the needs of riders and nonriders both. The information gathered is informing SacRT’s strategic visioning and laying a baseline for a comprehensive 2-year route optimization study.

UC Davis gets it too. They have prioritized community engagement as a guiding star for the Transportation Tomorrow planning process. The process is just getting started and UC Davis will be listening to their community throughout, learning what affiliates need in order to drive less and still have a positive experience getting to and from campus.

In both cases, Valley Vision is helping guide these community engagement activities, ranging from stakeholder workshops, surveying, and town hall meetings in local communities to participatory research in classrooms, pop up events, and more.

One more way that Valley Vision is helping facilitate community engagement around transportation is through our public opinion polling. We are currently planning a transportation poll to be released in the fall to gain a representative and comprehensive view of the region’s residents’ values and priorities when it comes to transportation.

The transportation landscape is changing and people’s needs are different than just a few years ago. If we listen to the community, increase our transportation investments, and plan wisely we can have a versatile, accessible, well-connected system that Sacramento region residents need and deserve.

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Evan Schmidt is the Valley Vision Director of Strategy and Evaluation working on the Public Opinion Surveying initiative and projects in the Innovation and Clean Economy portfolios.

Christine Ault is the Valley Vision Communications Advisor contributing to the success of all of Valley Vision’s projects.

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